Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Impossible World of Work and Its Family Impacts

My life’s a mess... That’s what happens when you start doing well at work... Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. Means it’s time for a promotion.”[1]

—Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) and Nigel (Stanley Tucci) talking

in The Devil Wears Prada (2006).

Let me make a confession. This conversation above spoke volumes to me when I watched this movie recently. This is because there was a time in my life where I put my work life first for the advancement of my career (and therefore also family opportunities) but it all came unstuck, and catastrophically so, when a myriad of forces came to bear unequally and communication was inept—as often as these times come. A failed marriage occurred as a result.

Of all the factors that came to bear in my situation—fairly considered now the healthy light of day has broken through six years on—it was the work/life disparity that proved the biggest stumbling block, both for direct and indirect reasons (among other indirect reasons) splintering the marriage without much real hope of recovery. I think marriages and relationships have to deal with a fair number of extraneous factors in any event; we have to be able to safely predict what they can and can’t take.

I recall having many discussions about choices for chasing the big money with other family men; if I can’t believe it for my own life then I can’t believe it will work for others’ lives either. I’m against it. It’s a foreign concept to me—an out-of-balanced approach to life where, inevitably it seems, work wins and family loses.

We have to ask whether it’s really worth it—chasing that alluring pot of gold at the end of rainbow—a rainbow I might add that seems more and more out of reach the closer we think we should be getting to it. I think when we enter this world we slowly get greedier—certainly more ambitious. We fall in love with the thought of becoming “self-sufficient.”

Yet, we make our choices in life because, poignantly, we cannot have it all ways. If we think we can have the perfect nuclear family complete with lovely home and white picket fence—and we do so by putting those critically close relationships on hold for two or three years (or even one)—then I think we’re grossly deluded. There’s a vast amount of compensation required to bring family up to that point of focus; the one lost to time away at work.

And it’s not simply about being away from home in a physical sense. Guys particularly fall for this one; when we’re home we’re expected to engage with the family through interaction, help, support and a range of other things that prove we’ve got our hearts sown into the fabric of the family.

I suppose a discussion on these issues is not complete without mentioning the word “balance.” A vast number of us struggle for balance every day. It’s not a foreign concept to anyone I suspect.

And it’s this sense of imbalance that we entertain and mull over, and negotiate with, as we strive to get ahead.

We always have to ask ourselves though, ‘What price could I inevitably be paying for allowing this imbalance in the first place?’ It could be the most important decision of our lives.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.

[1] The Internet Movie Database (IMDB), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Retrieved 18 November 2009.

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